Learn About the Chinese Character 義 (Righteousness, Justice, Loyalty)

Yì, the Chinese character for righteousness, justice, or loyalty. (Brad T./China Gaze)
Yì, the Chinese character for righteousness, justice, or loyalty. (Brad T./China Gaze)

The Chinese character 義 has broad inner content and includes values such as justice, honesty, loyalty, and reliability. Pronounced as yì, it is composed of 羊 (sheep) on top and 我 (I, myself) on the bottom.

The sheep, 羊, is obedient and kind, and mutton tastes good and is nutritious. Given those characteristics, the sheep is considered to be a symbol for good luck and prosperity.

The character 我 was originally developed from the oracle bone script, where it denoted a fighting implement with a sharp tooth, although it later meant “I” or “myself.”

羊 and 我, combined to make 義, can be literally interpreted to signify “I am a sheep.”

In ancient China, a sheep or lamb was sacrificed to honor the gods. The character’s intrinsic meaning is that, in regard to this ritual, one can make sacrifices in the name of justice or righteousness.

Yue Fei Tattooed Mother Serve Country Loyalty righteousness justice chinese character

Yue Fei, a famous general during the Southern Song Dynasty, was tattooed by his mother with the words “Serve The Country With Utmost Loyalty.” He did so, and is famously known in history for living his life fully in accordance to the characteristics of “Yi.” Yue Fei was ever loyal to the Emperor and dynasty, even though he was finally betrayed and assassinated by the corrupt Prime Minister Qin Hui and Lady Wang, Qin Hui’s wife. (Image: Rolf Müller via wikipedia / CC BY-SA 3.0)

The Chinese character 義 reminds people how they should conduct their lives — that is, selflessly.

Yi (義) belongs to a special category of ideograms called huiyi (multiple meanings brought together). They are composed of ideograms with different meanings, and their inner contents are a fusion of the several meanings.

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